7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.

Guild Wars 2: Captain Syp the Game Master

I consider 36 gold well-spent if it gives me the Captain N/NES light zapper as a pistol skin for life. Complete with retro-sounding zaps. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever purchased in a game, to tell the truth.

Long story short, I found my way back to Guild Wars 2 after a nearly two -year break, which apparently was long enough of a stretch for any burnout to blow away and leave the game fertile for rediscovery. Short story long, I was searching for some sort of casual online experience over the past week, and after going back and forth on some other titles, I found that Guild Wars 2 had exactly what I needed right now. It didn’t require an up-front cost, it was a perfect “jump in and do whatever” type of game, and it was different enough from my other MMOs to not be treading over the same territory.

Oh NPC, you’re about to have your heart broken by ArenaNet, because we ain’t never going back to Cantha. Too many players have heckled the studio at this point for the studio to acquiesce.

Without feeling pressured to do the latest content or — for whatever reason — get geared up for raids, I figured that I would just start all over from scratch. When I’m gone from a game this long, that’s what I typically (although not always) end up doing. I also figured that it’d be a good way to discover all of the changes that have happened without feeling overwhelmed.

Initially I rolled up a Thief (at the top of the post) because double pew-pewing with guns sounded fun. But I couldn’t fight my inner geek, which shouted loud and incessantly at me to go back to an Engineer. I thought for a few moments about picking up my old character, but I think I was done with the Asura. So I went with a fresh, level-one human instead.

I don’t really care what’s FOTM or optimal, all I want to do with this character is burn things with purifying fire from my flamethrower, which is still one of my favorite MMO weapons of all-time. Back-up is my dual pistol setup, both of which will lean on a condition damage build.

As my son asked when I dashed into a burning orphanage and started laying waste with my flamethrower, “Dad, why are you adding MORE fire to the place?” Because video game logic, son. You’ll understand one day.

So far it’s been a wonderfully relaxing experience. Without using a level boost, I don’t have to worry about facing all of the personal story all at once. Instead, I’m doing a little bit of that but mostly focused on world exploration and making money by gathering all I can. I have no idea how inflated the economy is right now, but I don’t want to get to 80 and have to worry about not affording my exotic gear.

As I said, it’s been a great time of small little rediscoveries. Still not a perfect game, especially in its larger storytelling department, but the environmental exploration and stories come off very well. The UI, combat, animations, and rewards feel right, and slowly going around a zone ticking off all of the boxes is satisfying in a “popping bubble wrap” fashion.

 

Will I ever go back to SWTOR, Guild Wars 2, WildStar, or FFXIV?

While I seem to have cultivated the impression that I play a thousand MMOs at once with my unlimited playtime, that’s all smoke and mirrors for the fact that I’ve been absolutely crunched for time this spring and have seen my play time cut down overall. Plus, I’ve been mostly focused on World of Warcraft and LOTRO, due to just being into these games right now and excited for the major upcoming patches.

There isn’t anything super-big on the immediate horizon (unfortunately) that has my excitement stirring. I keep tossing around Project Gorgon, Shroud of the Avatar, and Sea of Thieves as my next online adventures, but I’m still waiting on the first two to get to a more finished state, and who knows when SoT will come out.

So there is every chance in the world that some time this spring, my whims will turn back to old favorite MMOs, especially if I get into a content lull with one or both of my main games right now. The question that has been loosely bouncing around in my mind is, which game will I go back to? I’m quite disillusioned with RIFT right now, and there are several other fainter prospects (like DDO and Fallen Earth) that probably don’t stand a chance. Still, I think there are four titles that could be contenders as 2017 continues for a grand Syp return.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

While I did play a couple of sessions as of late, I still haven’t gotten back on board with this former favorite MMO. I would like to get through the story, to be sure, but it’s disheartening to hear about the current state of the endgame and game design as a whole, and if I’m going back to a game, I at least want the illusion that it’s going to be for a good long while instead of just to the end of a story and that’s it. I’d also have to pay for one month of subscription to unlock all of the expansions, which is a very minor concern.

Guild Wars 2

It’s been a long, long time since I played Guild Wars 2, and that might be a signal in and of itself that potential interest has been rejuvenated and I could enjoy the game once more “fresh.” There’s certainly a lot to do, although I think that if I went back, I really would want to reroll and bring up a new character from scratch to properly get into it. The announcement of a new expansion that sounds a lot more interesting than Heart of Thorns would go a long way to wooing me.

WildStar

Argh, you have no idea how much it hurts me that I’ve wandered away from this game. I still contend that it is an underrated piece of fine entertainment with so many good elements… but I cannot deny that I’m worried about the game’s future and hesitant to get back on board without seeing at least some minor sign of a renaissance. I do miss the housing, the races, the music, the visuals, and the design, so I could always find myself back on Nexus one day. Plus, I never did get to level that Esper!

Final Fantasy XIV

I’m iffy on this one. I definitely enjoyed my time with it for a few months a year ago, but it’s been a while and even back then I felt like I was playing the world’s longest game of catch-up. Good community. Some very annoying features and design (and the nodding, oh the nodding). There’s an expansion, and that’s always an event that draws attention… and that Red Mage looks pretty sweet. I’d have to really commit if I did return, subscribing up and giving it some of my time. I’m not saying no, I’m not saying yes, I’m just saying… check in with me in a month or so.

Guild Wars 2: I’m playing WHAT now?

me

One of my loose ambitions for gaming this December is to “check in” on MMOs that I used to play fairly regularly at one point but have been away from for a while now. I loaded up LOTRO for a hot 10 minutes of “let’s see if this still works… yup, it does,” and promised myself that I’d be back to work on the new epic story. Star Trek Online has gotten a few logins this week, thanks to a promotion that’s giving away free prize packs (I got a space shotgun!). But perhaps the most unexpected for me was getting back into Guild Wars 2.

I don’t know what prompted it. I have this inner process, this algorithm that determines whether or not I’ll play a new game or return to an old one. It’s pretty simple:

  1. Become aware of the title as something more than background noise. A big promotion, event, or release (say, expansion) can do this, or a bunch of other bloggers talking about it.
  2. Mentally mull it over for a while. Am I interested in playing it? If I’ve been in this game before, was I truly burned out on it? Is it too time-intensive to return? Would I need to pay money? Am I too hopelessly behind to ever catch up to the crowd?
  3. If I’m feeling interested or excited, I’ll load it up and take it for a test drive. See if the feeling of returning to that game is refreshing joy or a quick return of sour burnout.

I guess I was just thinking about how long it’s been since I’ve played Guild Wars 2 and curious if enough time has passed that my interest has rejuvenated. After all, it’s been since March 2015 since I was actively playing and blogging about those sessions. That’s a good long period for a game to go fallow. But there wasn’t anything pressing going on right now to pull me in other than just mild curiosity.

div

So why not? I don’t have Heart of Thorns — it came out after I had left the game and I don’t see the point in buying expansions (on sale or not) when I’m not playing — so I wasn’t returning to bust through the expansion. I don’t even think I finished up season 2. I was just coming back to see what’s what and feel out whether this was something I was interested in playing right now.

I think maybe. It’s amazing how fast the knowledge of this MMO rushed back at me after a mere 30 minutes or so of being back. How the economy worked (the updated trading screen is really nice to work with!). How the experience bar progresses with that little light show. How there are dynamic, moving events — funny enough, I had forgotten those and was taken aback when I encountered some during that first night. The NPC chatter. The general visual aesthetic (yay) and the two-people-talking cutscenes (boo). How amazing Divinity’s Reach looks. Even having been gone for a year and a half, I wasn’t really lost in the interface or with the changes.

I decided to clean house and start up a new character, because that’s part of the fun for me. A fresh start. I rolled up a Human Engineer to play as a rifle-toting gunslinger and used my zillion boosts lying around in the bank to bump her up to 80 right away. Actually, it took a couple of hours to manage my bank, transfer usable materials between characters, sort out all of the leveling up rewards, pick out a new outfit, and generally get situated so that I could start playing. As you can see in my character at the top, I’ve strongly angled for nice steampunk look for her.

burn

In the past I was always on a kick to do full zone completes — hearts, vistas, POIs, — but this time around, if I stay, I think I’ll just be following the storylines. Heaven knows that there’s enough for a new character to do: the personal story, Scarlet’s War, living world season 1, season 2, Heart of Thorns, and season 3. The latter two I can’t do unless I buy the expansion, but I’m holding off because (a) Christmas is sucking all of my allowance toward presents and (b) if I peter out halfway through, it would be a waste of money to buy an expansion I wouldn’t be using. Plus, maybe it’ll go on sale again at some point.

I played off and on during the weekend, mostly just gearing up my character (huzzah for having saved enough money and laurels to do that) and going through the first ten levels or so of the personal storyline. I’m such a tourist, too, because I’m taking screenshots left and right. Forgot how pretty this game is.

I’m in a play-and-see mode with this game right now. Maybe it’ll stick, maybe not. If I’m deeper into it by the end of the month, I’ll spring for Heart of Thorns and work it more heavily into my rotation. And hey, if there’s a new expansion sometime in 2017, that’d put me on track for being ready for it!

6 major MMORPG launch days revisited

wildstar plans

One of the neat things about having a long-running blog is that it inadvertently turns into a historical document chronicling major events. In this case, Bio Break has been around since 2008, and I’ve gone through several major MMO launches since then. I thought it might be fun to look up the day one (or day two) posts talking about those experiences to reshare them with you.

Guild Wars 2 (August 2012)

“Guild Wars 2.  Is incredible.

“Playing it live feels so much different than beta, and I’m so glad I have a character to actually invest in.  But even more than that, this is just a game that exists to wow you left and right.  I’m sure that there are those who have become immune to in-game beauty and details, and only see the numbers and min-maxing, but that’s missing the point here.  It’s a game where I felt fully justified to spend the first hour just gawking around like a tourist instead of killing things, and I’m forever going off the beaten track to explore.”

WildStar (June 2014)

“As you may have heard/experienced, it was anything but a smooth beginning.  Due to a purported DDoS attack and a kajillion people trying to cram through the login servers at the same time, we simply could not log into the game.  We got to know the little running hamster, the theme music, and our account passwords very well, however.  It was 4:15 before I could log in, and by then going back to sleep wasn’t much of an option.”

RIFT (February 2011)

“All in all, I’m pretty impressed with the game performance.  No crashes for me, and everything flowed just smoothly.  I did roll a Dwarf Bard, and I’m pretty pleased with the choice.  I’m a Medieval Guitar Hero and proud of it, baby!  I splashed in a bit of Riftstalker for the teleportation spell — being able to jump ahead 25 feet every so often is a ton of fun, as well as a helpful escape button if I got over my head.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic (December 2011)

“On a lark I tried to see if I could log in at 6:30, and lo and behold I could.  Servers were up about ten minutes after that, and I began the process of reserving the eight character names I picked out.  When I finally logged in, it was to a ghost town — not a single soul in the zone, not a single voice on the chat screen, nothing.  I’m not saying I was the first in game, but it almost felt like it.”

Champions Online (September 2009)

“Framerate issues notwithstanding, I had a great time last night.  It was fun to see a lot of friends in the game (and the @name system is growing on me, for sure).  I even spent a bit of time learning the ropes of the crafting system, which is pretty useful — you can make your own inventory bags, which is certainly useful.”

Neverwinter (April 2013)

“While the character creator is really skimpy and the Foundry reportedly in shambles, the core game itself looks fantastic and is pretty fun to play.  It’s more action/arcade-like than a traditional MMO, but for some reason it works here.”

Battle Bards Episode 76: Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns

heart

“It’s high time that we talk about the Heart of Thorns expansion for Guild Wars 2!” Syl says, and we couldn’t agree more. The Battle Bards assemble to look at the first expansion for this fantasy MMO — and the evolution of the game’s soundtrack from the Jeremy Soule era. The verdict? Unanimous love for this incredible score!

Episode 76 show notes

  • Intro (feat. “Rata Novus” and “An Exalted Lullaby”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Auric Wilds”
  • “Glint’s Legacy”
  • “Tarir, the Forgotten City”
  • “Far From Home”
  • “Attack on Tarir”
  • “Faren’s Flyer”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Theme” from Wynncraft, “The Dance Begins” from Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and “Comfort” from Frosaken World
  • Outro (feat. “Jaka Itzel”)

Listen to episode 76 now!

Stickiness and Guild Wars 2

gw2

I’ll admit that it’s been a long while since I even thought about Guild Wars 2. Other than listening through the (very good) expansion soundtrack, most of 2015 was spent entirely outside of that game’s influence. Heart of Thorns didn’t have a feature list that interested me, so I moved on.

And yet, there’s always those unexpected moments where you think you’ve outgrown something only to have a memory trigger a wistful twinge from deep inside your bosom.

I think it was this post by MMO Juggler the other day that did it. The author asked why Guild Wars 2 wasn’t proving to be as “sticky” as he hoped, a question that had popped up in my mind. After all, this was a game that, when it launched, I had elevated as a major prospect for an MMO home. I played it strongly for a couple of years, at least, and generally enjoyed my time in the game, leveling a few classes to 80 and getting a full world exploration clear. The Engineer was a terrific class, as was the Ranger and even the Necromancer (so many pet choices!). The game handled well, had stunning visuals, and for a good while there kept updates coming fast and furious.

But in the end I didn’t feel the sticky that I had in other games, and that became a source of frustration for me, especially since I couldn’t point to a single reason why. Maybe it was because of its weird endgame loot system that was less satisfying than it should’ve been. Maybe it was its bizarre-as-all-get-out speed dungeon runs. Maybe it was the lack of real personal housing (seriously). And definitely the game’s story and lore, which never connected to me the way it seemed to for others, didn’t help.

I guess when you’re not feeling as rooted in a game, it’s a lot easier to pull up your tent stakes and move on. When that happens, the game has to work doubly hard to get you back, usually by promoting new content and lassoing your attention.

But that was the issue, wasn’t it? Heart of Thorns went in a weird direction that, from my perspective, wasn’t capitalizing on Guild Wars 2’s core design or strengths. More dragon storylines? Jungle zones? Platforming? Mastery grinds? Raids? Guild housing? They couldn’t have made a more lackluster feature list for me personally than if ArenaNet sent scientists to my house to observe me for a year.

And I really haven’t seen much from the game or studio since the expansion. Is it just me or has Guild Wars 2 really started to run silent? Other than occasionally popping up to promote yet more esports stuff (yawn), there have been no good content updates since the expansion. Certainly, we’ve passed the era of ArenaNet’s famous “two week cadence” updates. Maybe the studio is pooling its resources to work on another expansion. I can’t deny that Heart of Thorns was pretty profitable, so that makes sense.

Maybe the next time around, the game will swing back to what made it truly special back in the day and add a layer of sticky to recapture this buzzing fly. I actually did try to reinstall the game the other day to discover that I totally forgot my password — and I don’t have the box serial code to help recover it. Maybe my account is gone for good? If that’s the case, then I can’t see ever coming back, since there’s no way I’m starting over from scratch.

Those of you playing Guild Wars 2 still, how’s the game holding up? What’s the community and mood like? What are you hoping to see from ArenaNet?